A huge barrier to many people studying abroad is the concern of cost. Because most people will not be allowed to work in Korea (unless you are staying for over 1 semester) you have to make sure you have enough funds saved or accessible for the entire duration of your trip. Using rough estimates from my own experience in conjunction with the official government website, this post will help you get a sense for how much money you will need to live comfortably in Seoul. People going to other cities can use this as a guide but make sure you look into specifics.
Because people are arriving in Korea from all parts of the world, this article will use KRW and USD, so feel free to convert these numbers to your local currency for planning needs.
₩1,000 KRW ≈ $1.00 USD
All prices as of February 24, 2017.
All below is the cost of one semester. Please multiply where applicable.
Visa: $45 USD
This will depend on where you live, so go to your country’s Korean embassy website for the most up-to-date information. Use your home university’s resources for the most up-to-date information. To save the most money, apply directly to the Korean embassy of your country! It takes a little more work, but it is completely worth it. As of July 2016, almost all schools in Korea do not require an official bank statement for the visa application.
Round-Trip Airfare: $700 USD – $1,500 USD
Keep in mind, I’m coming from the US, but upon inputting a few cities from all over the world, the prices to Incheon Airport lie within this range. It’s cheaper the closer you live to Korea, but this is probably the most variable item on this list, so please do your homework ahead of time. Skyscanner and Cheapflights are two great resources for comparing airline prices at different classes.
Food: ₩ 1,500,000 ($1,330 USD)
You might spend a little more or a little less than this depending on how much you actually eat and where you eat, but this is based on what my friends and I ate. We mostly hit the little Korean restaurants scattered in the city where the highest price on the menu was ₩8,000. Occasionally we’d splurge on Shake Shack, pizza in Itaewon, or Pancake House, where the bill was around ₩15,000 per person. Convenience store food like doshiraks (₩7,000-₩10,000) and kimbap(₩750-₩2,000) were also pretty cheap, so sometimes that would replace a meal. Since I lived in an apartment, I also bought groceries, which widely vary depending on what you end up buying.
Transportation: ₩ 350,000 ($310 USD)
Public transportation and taxis are stupidly cheap in Korea, especially if you’re coming from the States. Using a T-money card, the subway costs ₩1,250 base fare and an addition 100 per 5km. Transferring to a bus is free and simply adds on the 100 per 5km. The bus fares differ depending on the color bus, so use this page as a resource. My commute from Sindorim Station to the SNU campus using the normal bus only cost me ₩2,700 round trip per day. Naturally, if you’re living on campus, within walking distance, or near the student shuttle bus, you’re going to spend a lot less.
Taxi fare varies on the type, but a normal yellow cab is ₩3,000 for the first 2km, with ₩100 per 142 meters or 35 seconds if going slower than 15 km/hr. A ride from Sindorim to Hongdae costs about ₩10,000.
Leisure: ₩ 700,000 ($620)
Okay, now this is definitely the most variable item of the list because you can do a lot of fun things in Seoul for little to no money, especially if you stay near campus or other college campuses in the city. This includes shopping, going to clubs, too many trips to the Kakao Friends store, and basically anything that can’t be categorized into any of the other categories. Hongdae clubs are among the cheapest, with NB2’s club admission is ₩16,000 after 12 am, a little lower for earlier in the night, and Gogos 2 is anywhere from free to ₩10,000. You can take advantage of club night (last Friday of the month), where you get some free drinks and entrance to 15 clubs in the neighborhood for ₩25,000.
Oh, and if your school has a buddy/mentorship program, check with them to see how much the membership fee is and approximately how much all the trips and various shirts and jackets cost. SNU Buddy is ₩45,000 for the membership fee, ₩10,000 for the International Opening Party, and a bunch of random prices for other events.
Essentials: ₩ 630,000 ($560 USD)
Don’t be like me and not include these into your expenses as you’re saving money, because if it wasn’t for my mom looking out for me (and paying my rent anyway), I would have been eating ₩1,500 kimbap for dinner way more often than I wanted to. These include things like: the cost for the Alien Registration Card that you need if you’re staying over 90 days, textbooks, blankets, clothes, laundry detergent, soap, pillow, slippers, cleaner…you get the gist. The first month is the most expensive so be prepared to spend more than you anticipate.
P.S. Daiso. Go to Daiso.
Housing (and Utilities): ₩ 1,800,000 ($1,590 USD)
In the top three most variable items, this depends on your living situation. If you’re living in a dorm, I’m sure you already have a price. SNU dorms are cheap but competitive (except if they let you know 2 weeks before you leave that you got a room anyway >.>), Yonsei’s are a tad expensive in comparison, and I have no idea about other schools. If you’re living off campus, you have goshi-hells for as low as ₩300,000 a month with no deposit, a room in a sharehouse for as low as ₩380,000 a month, or a studio for as low as ₩500,000 a month with a higher deposit depending on your landlord. Craigslist is your friend. If you don’t know what your housing situation looks like, check out this guide I made for people just starting out.
Utilities in Seoul are pretty cheap, with the exception of electricity. For 6 people we each paid about ₩50,000 during the colder months for water, electricity, gas, trash, and TV, and ₩20,000 for mild months where we didn’t need AC or heat.
Korean Classes: ₩ 1,000,000 ($890 USD)
If your classes aren’t included in your tuition (in other words, if you have to go to a special Korean school on campus), you’ll have to pay for your classes separately if you wish to take them. These also vary widely, but I’d say that all the university language classes are about the same price. If you don’t want to pay this much, there are also low-cost community classes hosted all over Seoul that you can discover on Craigslist, but Sookmyung seems to have a pretty good community program. At SNU, the International Students Organization held classes once a week for like ₩20,000 for the semester using the Active Korean textbooks that the language school on campus uses.
But what did you spend?
Well, I did an awful job tracking my spending habits the first couple of weeks in Korea, but I spent about $5,500 USD from the visa application to my return flight back to Philly. This doesn’t include the $500 deposit I had to give to Drexel for my participation, and there’s probably some hidden money somewhere else.
I hope this gave you some good insight into how much money you’ll need in order to study abroad. Like I said before, a lot of this stuff is variable and you can easily cut some costs if you live on campus and stick to Korean food. If you’re considering studying abroad to Korea, especially to Seoul, I highly recommend it and feel free to ask me any questions on my Twitter!
So now that you have a rough estimate, how are you going to get all this money?